Yesterday's honky-tonk hero, Bad Blake, arrives at a Clovis, New Mexico, bowling alley. It's another in a string of low-pay, low-turnout gigs with pickup bands half his age, grinding the Greatest Hits out of an old Fender Tremolux, including his breakoutwith the chorus, "Funny how falling feels like flying . . . for a little while." Bad's not flying these days; he's dying slowly on a bourbon diet, holed up in motels watching Spanish-language smut. Actor turned writer-director Scott Cooper adapted Crazy Heart from Thomas Cobb's 1987 novel (the title is a Hank Williams B-Side). Cobb wanted Waylon Jennings for Bad Blake; Jeff Bridges finally got the part, though the now deceased Jennings and Bad's other inspirations hang over it. It's easy to forget, as Billboard's Country charts fill with faintly twangy pop and lazy paeans to dogs and trucks, that this music has an atavistic darkness. Bad has just about bottomed out when a small-time journalist, Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), meets him for a rare interviewand sticks around. Crazy Heart follows the slow recovery of atrophied emotional responses that starts when Bad gets involved with Jean and her young son. The subject, rehabilitation, is old and resonant. (Says Waylon: "We've been the same way for years/We need to change.") No scene feels obligatory, and Crazy Heart shows a pragmatic but tender understanding of the relationship between physical breakdown and the discovery of morality. It's merely a well-done, adult American moviethat is to say, a rarity.
Starts: Dec. 25. Daily, 2009